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Purling is hip again: next generation taking up knitting, crochet

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WINNIPEG - Move over knitting grannies.

Yarn harlots, knit chicks and knit-nerds are taking over and they're not knitting baby booties or crocheting doilies. More young people are taking up the "stitch and bitch" craft, making everything from conventional scarves and mittens to purses and wraps.

Growth seems to be highest among knitters like Allison Krause Danielsen — twenty-somethings looking to express their creativity, reject cheap mass consumerism, and decompress in a way that doesn't depend on the technology they are immersed in all day.

Krause Danielsen, a 29-year-old Winnipeg resident, learned to knit at an early age but didn't really take it up seriously until she hit university.

"I've got my iPhone and my computer but it's something that's more tangible and tactile that you can do and it's productive," said the recent University of Manitoba graduate. "You're making something that you can give away or you're making something you can wear or use. It's a really good feeling.

"In this age of just being able to go to the dollar store and buy something you can throw away, you have something more valuable if you've knit it yourself."

Those in knitting circles say they've noticed more young people picking up knitting needles in recent years. The stats seem to back them up.

The Craft Yarn Council of America says young women in their twenties are fuelling yarn sales across the country. Between 2002 and 2004, the council's annual surveys found knitters between the ages of 25 to 34 jumped 150 per cent. Its most recent survey found expressing creativity is what draws this cohort to take up the craft.

Krause Danielsen has even noticed an influx of younger knitters in her church group that make prayer shawls for donation.

"It's the coolest group because you have people who have been knitting for decades and then you have people who have just learned," said the wildlife biologist. "You get to share this knowledge across these generations."

Lori Franko, a member who helps run the Ram Wool Co-op in Winnipeg, said their customers range from 20 years old to 90. But in recent years, she said the shop is seeing younger and younger knitters seeking skeins of yarn.

The old stereotype of the knitting grandmother clicking her needles in her rocking chair is gone, Franko said.

"It certainly isn't the case anymore," she said. "It's actually become something all the cool kids are doing."

Much of the growing popularity is thanks to the Internet, Franko said. Younger, web-savvy knitters can go online and find everything from free patterns to blogs to chatrooms with advice and support.

The web feeds the "huge do-it-yourself" movement that's afoot among younger people, Franko said.

"There is just an enormous amount of creativity that you can access for free on the Internet and everybody is sharing — sharing patterns, swapping ideas — it's all just out there now."

Young people have even turned knitting into a form of graffiti with "yarn bombing," she said. The phenomena, believed to have started in the United States or the United Kingdom, involves people leaving knitted items — animals, scarves or even intricate cobwebs — in public places, on statues or even bike racks.

Entire buses and cars have been covered in knitted yarn in what some have called "guerilla crochet art."

"It's just because you can," Franko said. "It's just another way that young knitters are expressing themselves. They'll crochet something up and hang it from trees."

Odessa Reichel's interest in knitting is rooted in something more practical. The 28-year-old took up knitting needles at the end of high school because she wanted something to do with her hands while she watched television or movies.

Now knitting has become more than a hobby. Reichel can dash off a sweater in a week and has had several of her own patterns published in magazines. She also co-owns Wolseley Wool, a Winnipeg shop that has quickly become a favourite gathering place for knitting enthusiasts.

"It's just about making something on your own," Reichel said.

Although seasoned knitters aren't daunted by tackling chunky sweaters or delicate shawls, Reichel said the most popular projects among younger knitters are relatively quick and simple socks.

"People really like making and wearing hand-knit socks," she said. "The yarn for making socks is really pretty and I think that has a huge part in that."

Despite being an expert knitter, who just recently learned how to spin her own wool, Krause Danielsen's favourite projects are still simple and practical.

"I love mittens!" she said. "Mittens are my favourite thing. In Manitoba, everybody needs a warm pair of mittens."

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